Nigeria Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, said that the ministry plans to feed 30 million school children from primary and secondary schools with a litre of milk per pupil daily.
He made this pronouncement when the management of WAMCO, makers of Peak Milk, paid him a courtesy visit in his office in Abuja.
Ogbe, who cited the UNESCO statistics that says 24% Nigerian children under the ages of five are underweight while 37% are undernourished, said it will reduce the problem of malnutrition and stunted growth among school children in the country.
But many are asking if government under the current economic situation can really afford a litre of fresh milk daily for each of the 30 million school children.
A look at the cost implication of the planned programme shows a huge bill running into several billions monthly, greater than the annual budget of the ministries of agriculture and education put together.
Currently, a litre of milk costs N200, and even more in some places, and if 30 million school children get it daily, it means government is going to spend about N6 billion daily.
N6 billion daily for the school feeding programme will translate into N180 billion monthly; and if this is run for a year, government will spend a whooping sum of N2.1 trillion annually. However, the ministry did not say if only pupils in public schools will benefit from the programme and how the 30 million will be selected and spread across the states and whether the ages of the school children would also be considered when making the selections.
Statistics available with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) – a body that takes care of the new basic education policy introduced in 1999, indicating enrolments in both primary and junior secondary schools across the country – show that there are a total of 23,476,939 pupils in public primary schools in Nigeria.
The junior secondary schools under UBEC have a total of 4,470,037 across the country.
Although, the figures cover only 2012, there are apparently no figures covering 2013 to 2015 in the public domain. However, with the projected increase in school enrolments in the last two years, the total figures might have crossed the 30 million school children earmarked for the school feeding programme.
While questions are being asked about the realization and sustainability of the programme, dairy farmers who spoke with Daily Trust are already counting their chickens.
Muhammad Damakka Abubakar is the Managing Director, L & Z Integrated Farms based in Kano State. His cows produce an average of 15 litres of milk per cow in a day.
In an interview with Daily Trust, Abubakar said the programme will benefit dairy farmers in the country if only fresh milk is used, adding that it will encourage more investors into the dairy industry in the country because of the demand.
He pointed out that Nigeria has the most lucrative dairy industry in the world at the moment.
Abubakar noted that dairy farmers in Europe and America are having hard times, stressing that some of them are already beaming their search lights on Nigeria.
Hajiya Rukaiyah Gwamna heads the marketing section at Milcopal Limited producers of pasteurized Fresh Milk and other products based in Kaduna State.
She was certain that Nigerian farmers can produce the 30 million litres of milk required by the ministry daily but stressed that other factors must come to play.
Hajiya Rukaiyah said for the full realization of the programme, government must provide the necessary support to dairy farmers across the country in terms of animal feeds that can enhance the quality and quantity of milk produced.
She also called on government to actualise the programme, adding that it will create millions of jobs along the value chain for both small holders and commercial farmers that will now do more to increase production.
Ilan Bones is the agronomist in charge of Milky Way Dairy Farm in Bokkos, run by the Plateau State Agricultural Services Training Centre & Marketing Limited in collaboration with an Israeli company.
The Israeli farmer told Daily Trust that the school feeding programme is a good initiative, adding that China has tried it and found it very helpful in promoting both the health and the mental capacity of children.
But he said China gave a glass everyday not a whole litre stressing that 30 million litres daily is a huge quantity that could run in billions because a litre in some places now sells above N200.
To realize its goal, however Bones said government must help farmers set up collection centres and also assist them to expand processing facilities, adding that “you cannot milk a cow and take it directly to children, it has to be processed.”
Responding, the Director Federal Department of Agriculture in the ministry, Mr. Eniayeju Bamilola, said the ministry is waiting for the final budget as approved by the president before he can make further comments on the cost.
Mr. Eniayeju, however, said the programme might start with selected pilot schools in some states, adding that the ministry will need huge amount of money to take up the 30 million school children at once.
Daily Trust learnt from source in the ministry that the school feeding programme might be handled by the Federal Ministry of Education.
Source: Daily Trust